Agencies should ensure that their websites are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) so that they can reduce their risk of being targeted in a lawsuit or government enforcement action.
To protect your agency, take these nine steps:
- Conduct an informal risk assessment of your website. Visit your site and see whether you can manipulate it, suggests Peter Verlezza, managing director of health care IT company SMB Networks, LLC, Hamden, Conn.
For instance, check whether your browser lets you modify text, font size and background colors.
You can also download software that will assess whether the website is ADA compliant, says Chris Yoko, founder and CEO of website design company Yoko Co. in McLean, Va.
“The software won’t catch everything but will show red flags,” he says.
2. If you find that your website is not ADA compliant, have your website professionally evaluated, suggests Mark Thompson, executive director of the Fairfield County (Conn.) Medical Association.
3. Be prepared to modify your website to comply with the ADA. While a few websites will just need tweaking, most will need to be redesigned because it’s too expensive to build ADA compliance on older platforms, Verlezza says.
“It’s cheaper and easier to use a newer platform with plug-ins that are already ADA compliant, like WordPress,” he says.
4. Obtain verification that the website is ADA compliant. For example, the auditor should issue a certificate of conformance if the website is compliant or once the website is brought up to speed, Verlezza says.
5. Periodically check your website to make sure that it remains compliant, Yoko recommends. For instance, if you’re posting on a blog or making edits, confirm that the new content is also accessible to the disabled.
6. Alert visitors when a link on your website will take them to another website. That way, if the other website is not ADA compliant, you’re not on the hook for someone else’s violation, says health law attorney Roy Breitenbach with Garfunkel Wild in Great Neck, N.Y.
This is a strategy employed by many government websites.
7. Do due diligence with third-party website companies. If you’re creating or updating your website with a website designer or template platform, don’t presume that the website being built is ADA compliant; ask and make sure, Verlezza says.
8. Don’t assume that your website is noncompliant if you get sued or contacted by a plaintiff’s attorney. These firms are often looking to pressure entities into quick settlements, Yoko warns.
“Don’t freak out if you get one of these letters,” he says. “They can show you a screen shot of [your website’s] source code (the codes used to build a website) and say you’re not compliant but you really may be.”
9. Remember other disability-related compliance issues. For instance, your state law may impose additional accessibility obligations on your website. This may also be a good time to assess whether your physical office space is ADA compliant.
“This is a fertile area for plaintiffs’ attorneys,” says attorney Michael Kline with Fox Rothschild in Princeton, N.J. “There’s no question that the disabled are becoming more active in this area” — Marla Durben Hirsch (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Related link: View an example of a website accessibility evaluation software tool at http://wave.webaim.org/.